Toronto
3 min

A May-October romance

'Does she have children, other than you?'

AN INVISIBLE RELATIONSHIP. Maureen Phillips is almost 20 years older than her girlfriend. Credit: Xtra files

Years ago, when I was 26, I met a nice 24-year-old lesbian who I found very attractive. So I tried to date her up. She ever so politely declined, saying she was romantically occupied and in any case, she was only interested in older women. And by older she didn’t mean five years – she meant 25 years.



Add to this the fact that the older woman who was the object of her affection was at least 50 and someone I found attractive; I would have picked her over me in a heartbeat. How interesting, I thought, to have such a clearly defined preference, especially because my own preferences had yet to be revealed and I naïvely believed that desire was more like a force of nature rather than a highly organized system of which I was in charge.



The experience familiarized me with the concept of intergenerational lesbian relationships. So imagine my delight years later when I found myself involved with someone almost 20 years my junior. It was as though my moment had arrived.



Being part of an intergenerational couple has certainly made being a lesbian more fun. It’s a bit like being thrown back into an earlier time in my life when the mere fact of having sex with another woman seemed decidedly transgressive and therefore a distinct turn on.



Let’s face it, living life a little differently has always been a huge factor in the same-sex world and given recent over-emphasis on assimilating into straight culture, it’s positively thrilling to be visibly contrary.



And there’s a lot to be said about the ego boost it gives me.



There were some adjustments, particularly in the area of fashion. The bell-bottoms reminded me too much of the early 1970s, but at least I don’t have to wear them. On the other hand, her fitted T-shirts are just fine. There are other interesting twists, like how it’s difficult to distinguish the person from their age. Is she supremely confident because she’s young or just because that’s who she is?



What I wasn’t prepared for was the commentary our relationship inevitably provokes. My girlfriend’s mother, on learning that her 25-year-old daughter was involved with someone over 40, got right to the point, asking, “Does she have children, other than you?” That sort of response was enough to make me momentarily nostalgic for the time when people weren’t out to their parents, back when parental input was a non-issue.



I was also caught off-guard by the jocular, metaphorical backslapping comments from friends around my age, lesbian and straight, who, while envying me and my youthful action, implied I was getting away with something. They’re right, of course. Sex certainly has something to do with it. But it also seems harder for people to look beyond what’s obvious and see the relationship as more fully dimensional emotionally and intellectually.



Everyone knows what’s in it for me, following the standard theory that youth is inherently attractive and who wouldn’t mind a taste of it, if it became available? I don’t mind admitting that I agree, though, of course, there’s more to it than that.



Friends my age offer up the expected kind of comment – most of us were in university when she was still in diapers. What’s funny about it is the way we assume that age equals knowledge and therefore youth equals lack of knowledge, even though half the time people my age can’t remember half of what they used to know anyway.



When we find ourselves in a younger crowd, we get a very different response. It’s almost as if the relationship is invisible. It takes people a lot longer to figure things out, which is to say no one quite realizes that we’re together. It took nearly the entire soccer season for some of my lover’s teammates to realize we were an item. Wasn’t it obvious? Why else would I be there? To cruise some of the older players in the league?



Even if I am old enough to be her mother, I certainly don’t behave in a maternal fashion; we never fight about clothes or music and certainly not in public. Don’t even get me started on the lack of family resemblance.



We’ve all seen older men/younger men pairings in gay male relationships. Though they often make perfect sense, they can also trigger bitchy comments and negative stereotypes. Intergenerational homo sex, with its allegedly predatory gay men and unsuspecting boys, remains a loaded concept both within the queer realm and in the larger world.



The rareness of it in the lesbian world remains a mystery. I haven’t come across many lesbians whose relationships span so many years. It’s not like I’m looking for a support group, but I am curious about the shortage. Are lesbians so fixated on sameness that it doesn’t occur with any frequency? Is it just a phase young lesbians grow out of? Is there an unspoken anxiety about the insurmountable obstacle of age difference that makes connection too difficult? Is it really hugely important that one’s partner grew up watching the same television shows and listening to the same popular music?



And speaking of popular music, if you think I’m overly sensitive, let me say that the Britney Spears/Madonna kiss was controversial not only because of its lesbo flavour, but also because of the age factor. It was one of those any publicity is good publicity moments.



In the end, I’m getting used to the raised eyebrows and the suggestive leers. And I’m going to continue to roll my eyes when anyone asks how I keep up with someone so young.